A grassroots conference about game criticism will launch on the Sunday before the 2014 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, it was recently announced.
Organized by critic, writer and historian Zoya Street in collaboration with Critical Distance, the Critical Proximity conference will take place on March 16 in a yet to be announced venue in San Francisco. According to Street, the idea for the conference came after a number of critics he knew missed out on getting their talks into GDC.
"So my starting point was, I wanted to hear the talks they would have given, because I felt like something that I really value was at risk of being lost," Street told Polygon via email. "That's not to slight GDC, because they're very upfront about their priorities: they want talks that give developers actionable takeaways. Critical reflection is more often about posing interesting questions than offering tidy solutions, so I think it's understandable if they feel that it doesn't really align with their goals."
"Critical reflection is more often about posing interesting questions than offering tidy solutions..."
Street said he looked at what game critics might need that GDC can't provide, and it boiled down to a few key factors: "signal boosting work" so that critics can be noticed and appreciated for their work, discussing the economic struggles that hold criticism back and allowing critics to build bridges with each other.
The event itself, which will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, will be balanced more towards conversation than lectures. Street says the talks will be short and energetic, and the structure of the event will encourage dialog through roundtable discussions and informal chats.
"In terms of content, there are four main topics anchoring everything," he said. "Outward, or how criticism interacts with the rest of the games field; Inward, or how critics work with and relate to each other; Upward, or how we support criticism and Forward, or how we develop as writers."
Street said these topics will serve as a rough guide for what the talks will be about. Speakers will also be able to give talks focusing on specific games.
The event is not exclusive to those who are part of the games criticism community. Developers and other members of the public are welcome, and Street says the voices of developers are particularly important in the Outward track "as we work together to demystify the relationship between development and criticism."
The event isn't the first non-GDC games conference to run during the same period as GDC. Last year marked the inauguration of Lost Levels, an inclusive casual "unconference" about games and play that anyone could take part in. Details regarding a 2014 conference have not yet been announced.
Tickets to Critical Proximity are free, but there is a limited number available. Those interested in attending can register for a ticket via Critical Proximities Eventbrite page. Those who miss out can put their name on a waiting list. Talks, panels and roundtables have not yet been locked in, so those interested in submitting a talk to the event can do so here.
"My hope is that games criticism will benefit from the energy surrounding this event," Street said. "It's not just about a crowd of people gathering in a building, it's also about the conversations that happen online concurrently and subsequently. I hope that after Critical Proximity, we'll all know a lot more about the diversity and depth of critical writing about games."